Today is the day when the world remembers, or rather ought to remember, the Armenian Genocide. Various commemorations have been taking place in Yerevan, the capital of present-day Armenia, which have been attended by several world leaders, but not others. Incredibly, 100 years after the beginnings of the Armenian massacres, a large part of the world leadership cannot bring itself to recognise these killings for what they were or use the g-word: genocide.
Who has gone to Yerevan, and who has not, is directly related to which countries feel they have to appease Turkish sensibilities, and which countries dare to upset the Turkish government. As we have seen, despite a friendly visit to Ankara last year by the Pope, Pope Francis has subsequently dared use the g-word, and set off a diplomatic storm as a result. The Turks are undoubtedly enraged, but the truth of the matter is that there is very little they can effectively do: sooner or later, every government will use the g-word in some speech or other, simply because “genocide” is the only world that quite describes the horrors of 1915. Turkey, in denying genocide, is fighting the historical truth, and that is a battle it is surely bound to lose. Indeed most Turks know this, and would, I imagine, be quite happy to stop this semantic game, in order to allow their country to enter into a normal political conversation about a historical event, which has become such an issue mainly through Turkish denial.
It is at this point that we should remember Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian writer and editor, murdered simply because he dared to tell the truth about the Armenian genocide. Dink’s campaign for the truth went much further than the events of 1915, though: it opened up the entire question of the way governments try to suppress truth.
And we should remember too that the British government, and the United Sates government, also refuse to recognise the genocide. We all know that Turkey is an important ally of Britain and America, but wouldn’t a Turkey that acknowledged the truth be a better and more useful ally?
Today we ought to acknowledge something else as well: as we prepare to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, that historic clash between the British and Ottoman Empires, which saw so many casualties, we remember how remote the causes of that war now seem. That Britain, Australia and New Zealand and others should have been at war with Turkey and the other successor states of the Ottoman Empire seems inexplicable, and that it is so, is a sign that our peoples will never be at war again.
It is 100 years since Gallipoli, and at the same time many decades of peace between us too. That is highly positive. None of us have any quarrel with Turkey or the Turkish people. Rather we wish them well. That is why some of us are asking Turkey to acknowledge the genocide of 1915: to do so is the act of a friend, not an enemy. A hundred years have passed: it is time to turn over a new leaf – it would be a pity to miss this opportunity, and it is still not too late to do so.